KYIV: Ukraine said Saturday it has regained control of the Kyiv region, with Russian troops retreating from around the capital and Chernigiv city.
AFP reporters saw at least 20 bodies on a single street in the town of Bucha near the capital city, including one with his hands tied, and the body of a missing photographer was discovered in a nearby village.
"All these people were shot," Bucha's mayor Anatoly Fedoruk told AFP, adding that 280 other bodies had been buried in mass graves in the town.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to raise economic pressure on Russia, the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania announced Saturday that they had stopped all imports of Russian natural gas.
As it withdraws from some northern areas, Russia appears to be focusing on eastern and southern Ukraine, where it already holds vast swathes of territory.
"What is the aim of the Russian forces? They want to seize both Donbass and the south of Ukraine," Zelensky said in a video address late Saturday. "What is our goal? To defend our freedom, our land and our people."
But Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak warned on social media that "without heavy weapons we won't be able to drive (Russia) out".
Ukraine authorities nevertheless offered citizens elements of good news Saturday in claiming progress against the Russians more than five weeks after Moscow's invasion triggered Europe's worst conflict in decades.
Putin ordered tanks into Ukraine on February 24, and Ukraine estimates 20,000 people have been killed in the war so far. More than 10 million have had to flee their homes.
Ukrainian authorities said Saturday the body of a well-known photographer, Maks Levin, had been found near a village in the region around Kyiv that had been caught up in the fighting. Levin became the sixth journalist killed in the war, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Levin, a 40-year-old father of four, had been reported missing on March 13; the body was found on April 1.
Russia's efforts to consolidate its hold on southern and eastern areas of Ukraine have been hampered by the resistance of Mariupol despite devastating attacks lasting weeks.
At least 5,000 residents have been killed in the besieged southern port city, according to local officials, while the estimated 160,000 who remain face shortages of food, water and electricity.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said its team left for Mariupol on Saturday to make another attempt at conducting an evacuation, after being forced to come back the day before.
Ray of hope
In a potential sign of progress, Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia told local television channels that Russia had "verbally" accepted most of Kyiv's proposals in peace talks - except on the issue of Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.
Among the agreed-upon points was that a referendum on Ukraine's neutral status "will be the only way out of this situation", Arakhamia said.